April 11, 2009 at 11:51 pm #3137
Idled, angry steelworkers rally to take back America
By NORMA MENDOZA
Published: Thursday, April 9, 2009 10:43 AM CDT
It seemed like all 2,000 idled steelworkers were at the Rally to Restore American Manufacturing Tuesday morning, although estimates put the number at about 1,000 or more who gathered in the cold to protest the foreign steel being unloaded at River’s Edge just two miles from U.S. Steel’s shutdown Granite City Works.
Carl Dake of Glen Carbon is one of those laid-off workers who is optimistic that the mill will go back to work before his sub pay runs out. He has put in 22 years at the mill and he estimated that with union sub pay and unemployment, he gets about 80 percent of what he was earning at the mill.
But, Dake said, they are not buying like they used to. He said everybody is taking a wait and see attitude. He said without people buying washers, dryers, refrigerators and other household goods, the need for steel lessens.
“People who are not working are not buying,” he said. “We’re not helping the economy out. We’re just doing what we have to do to survive.”
Gene Dickenson of Greenville said he was hoping to retire in a few years, but may have to work longer to be able to afford it. He, too, hopes to get back to work at the mill soon.
“I don’t understand why our government allows this,” Dickenson said.
The rally took place just yards from piles of steel pipe shipped here from India for the nearly 2,000-mile Keystone Pipeline that ConocoPhillips and TransCanada are building to ship Canadian shale oil from Alberta to the refinery in Wood River.
“Does this make you mad?” said Russ Saltsgaver, president of United Steel Workers Local 1899, indicating the piles of pipe.
“Yeah!” the crowd roared.
“With Granite City Steel less than two miles away, this is a slap in the face to bring it to our community not only in front of steelworkers but in front of our whole community,” Saltsgaver said.
He introduced Jim Robertson, director of USWA District 7, representing Illinois and Indiana.
“What you see behind us is the result of, yes, bad policy made in our country in Washington, D.C.,” Robertson said. “Somebody got the idea that moving our jobs overseas is good for America. Everybody needs to stand up and let them know that we’re taking a different direction.”
Robertson said he wants to make clear that the USWA is not aiming its protest against the hardworking building trades whose union members are building the pipeline.
“We support them,” he said. “It is aimed at Washington that has allowed this dumped steel, unfairly traded steel, subsidized steel. We fought hard to save this mill while across America we lost textile mills, we lost lumber mills, we lost paper mills and we lost the middle class. It’s time to fight back! We’re taking our country back!”
The crowd chanted, “No more greed! No more greed!”
Robertson said Granite City wasn’t the only place where people are standing up for American made steel and for middle-class workers.
“This is our fight and we will win this fight!” he said.
Marty St. Peters, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor echoed Robertson’s remarks of support for all workers who are suffering under the current state of the economy.
“An injury to one is what?” he said to the crowd who answered in unison, “An injury to all.”
St. Peters said some call the Buy American campaign protectionism.
“But, what is protectionism?” he said. “If something is hurting my family, my job, my community and my country, I’m gonna fight like hell for ’em.”
Saltsgaver introduced Darrin Gilley, president of Local 1760 of the United Auto Workers who are going through the same hell the steelworkers are.
“There are things the steelworkers and the auto workers have in common,” Gilley said. “On my way here this morning, I passed the Chrysler Company where they used to make mini-vans and a little farther I passed the Kia mini-van company that is subsidized by Korea. Last year, they sent 600,000 vehicles into the United States and they imported 4,000 America vehicles (into Korea). Then they bring up protectionism like it’s fair (trade) right now. It’s not fair right now.”
Gilley reminded the crowd that it was unions in the 1800s that brought about the eight-hour work day.
“They said we’d have too much time on our hands with an eight-hour day,” Gilley said. “Now it’s a world standard. They were wrong and we were right.”
He said in the early 1900s, unions led the fight to stop abusive child labor. Proponents of child labor said the children needed the work, but the unions said these children had no future breaking coal and working in mills; they needed to get an education in the public schools so they could make a life for themselves.
“They were wrong and we were right,” he said, joined by the crowd who made it into a refrain.
“Two months ago, when we had the rally to put Buy American into the stimulus package, they said it would be inefficient to spend American tax dollars for American goods, that it would only employ Americans,” Gilley said. “The Chamber of Commerce and Mitch McConnell all said it was wrong, but.’
“They were wrong and we were right,” the crowd shouted.
Gilley said they thought these companies should get American subsidies to buy foreign steel and run it past the U.S. Steel plant.
“They were wrong and we are right,” he led the crowd in shouting.
Scott Paul, president of the American Alliance for Manufacturing, said he is the guy fighting for the Buy American campaign in Washington. He praised the workers for not giving up, but rather doing something about it.
He said people say why does it matter if they go to stores like Wal-Mart where they can buy the cheapest stuff made in foreign countries.
“They say it doesn’t make a difference what kind of pipe is coming through here,” Paul said. “Ultimately, it does make a difference. We need things made in America. Where will we get the steel for tanks, planes, battleships? Will we still be able to get steel in the United States or will we have to get it from China? This is not just about job security – it’s about national security.”
He said the important thing to remember is that steelworkers are not asking for a government handout or a government bailout.
“They’re just asking not to get screwed by the government,” Paul said.
He held up a sheaf of papers that he said are lists of the subsidies the Indian government provides to its steel industry. He said American workers are told to just get another job.
“We’re not going to win the next war flipping burgers at McDonald’s,” he said. “This pipeline is being laid through several states, counties and municipalities throughout the United States who could say, ‘We’re not going to have this pipe in our backyard.'”
He told the workers gathered in the cold to keep their heads high and not to let the elected officials off the hook.
“They work for you,” he said. “Let them know that they’re not going to have a job unless you have a job.”
Saltsgaver recognized several elected officials in the crowd, including Alan Dunstan, Matt Melucci and Fred Bathon. He said Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer couldn’t attend because of a funeral, but sent word that the Granite City Council passed the resolution to use stimulus funds only to Buy American.
The unions are working at the grassroots level to pass Buy American resolutions at municipal levels. So far, Saltsgaver said, they are having good results. Madison Mayor John Hamm attested to that, stating that the Madison City Council also passed the resolution.
“Hang in there,” Hamm told the crowd. “We’re going to turn this thing around.”
April 12, 2009 at 12:02 am #6158
Here is dramatic demonstration on what is wrong with US manufacturing – trade practices that are anything but fair. And the Steel industry has correctly identified the problem – US Congress that allows the “unfairness to exist”.
The US Steel Industry has had brutal lessons in trying to compete fairly with subsidized countries & the lack of support from its US Government to level the trading floor. I would hasten to add that the problem has been greatly agrivated by the crushing burden of Environmental legislation & cost that are not born by other countries that are susposed to also be part of the WTO but have been expempted and are now among the worlds leader in pollution.
The US Oil industry will soon feel the pressures that eventually bankrupted 21 US Steel Companies as China & India point heavily subsidized cost and transportation for Oil Refinery products at the US Market during a period of low demand and increasing cost being put forward with Carbon Tax & Emission Caps and deminished supply as offshore drilling trying to be revoked & more federal land placed off base for exploration.
Unless Oil Industry wants to join the ranks of the Idled Steel workers they should be joining thier voices to the Congress about “Made in America”, Counter Tariffs for Countries doing illegal subsidies like China.
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